In order to depict in a short space of time, a conflict that will hold the attention of the audience or reader, and evoke a progressively strong emotional response, a dramatist (or novelist) must plan the structure and the dialogue of his or her play (or novel) with great care.  Every conversation, aside, soliloquy, action, and piece of narration must have a definite purpose in the story that unfolds.  This purpose is termed ‘dramatic or narrative significance’ (depending upon whether one is analyzing a play, novel, or short story).

Below is a list of the various types of dramatic significance (in no particular order) that can be identified in a speech, conversation, incident, or entire scene in a play, or through the narration and dialogue in prose fiction.

NOTE: Often, a combination of a few or even several of these types of literary elements are present in a single passage:

  • To establish conflict: i.e. to introduce key elements of conflict that will need to be resolved such as: person vs person, person vs society, person vs nature, or person vs himself or herself

  • To forward the plot: i.e. to depict the victories and the defeats of the protagonist; to depict some incident or decision that will precipitate further events in the conflict

  • To give information: i.e. to give background facts that the audience needs to know in order to understand the conflict;  or, to give information about events that, during the play, were supposed to have occurred off-stage

  • To develop character or to characterize: i.e. to reveal the nature or character traits of a character; or to show development in a character

  • To create suspense

  • To create atmosphere or to impart mood

  • To provide dramatic relief: i.e. a scene or passage included after a tense scene or incident that is designed to break the tension (without going so far as to provoke laughter)

  • To provide comic relief: i.e. a scene or passage included after a serious scene or incident that is designed to provoke laughter from the audience

  • To arouse pathos in the audience: i.e. to make the audience’s sympathies lie where the dramatist wants them to lie

  • To create irony (dramatic, verbal, or situational)

  • To foreshadow later events

  • To create dramatic contrast in characters or mood

  • To emphasize or link to a theme

  • To create imagery : i.e. the use of description, including metaphors, similes, personification, etc., to help support characterization, atmosphere, theme, etc.

  • To establish setting: i.e. to create a sense of time  and place


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